Page last updated at 04:01 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 05:01 UK

Patients shown DVDs as distraction during surgery

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland health correspondent

Patients arriving for knee surgery at a Glasgow hospital are being asked if they want to watch a movie while they are having their operation

The technique is being used to divert their attention so they need less anaesthetic.

A DVD instead of general anaesthetic relaxes James McLaren during his knee surgery at Gartnavel Hospital, Glasgow.

The idea was the brainchild of Gartnavel Hospital anaesthetist Dr Nick Pace. He had been trying to reduce the number of people opting for a general anaesthetic and being put to sleep for the entire operation.

Most people recover faster when they are only numbed from the waist down, but too many patients found the sights and sounds of the surgery unnerving.

"We tried music, but after about an hour a lot of patients got distracted and fidgety, and we ended up having to give them a general anaesthetic anyway," said Dr Pace.

"Then I happened to be speaking to a friend of mine who was taking two young kids on a long journey down to London and she told me she'd distract them with two DVDs strapped to the back of the seats. It got me thinking."

Some patients are quite disappointed because the operation is finished before the end of the film!
Dr Nick Pace

Dr Pace asked Gartnavel Hospital's engineering department to make a mount to hold a DVD player over the operating table. He brought in some DVDs from home and found that offering his patients the option of watching a movie during their surgery has proved a huge success.

He said: "Most of them are desperate to phone relatives and say - 'Guess what? I've just been watching Only Fools And Horses in the middle of my operation!'"

If the patient becomes uncomfortable Dr Pace will quickly put them to sleep, but that has never happened so far in the 18 months he's been using DVDs.

James McLaren, 69, is very relaxed about the idea of staying awake during his knee operation. He picks The Blue Planet from Dr Pace's extensive collection.

"The Blue Planet is very relaxing," he said. "I like the fish and the oceans. I don't mind being awake at all."

'Some noise'

During the operation he seems engrossed in David Attenborough and hardly seems to notice the sights and sounds of the theatre.

After his leg is swabbed down with iodine, a blue sheet is positioned below his neck so he can't see the surgery itself. After about an hour it's all over and he's wheeled into recovery.

"It went very well," he reflects. "There's various movements and maybe some noise, like that grinder, but it was fine."

Now, 50% of Dr Pace's patients opt for a movie and a spinal anaesthetic, although he still has a long way to go to match Scandinavia, where about 95% of operations are carried out using this kind of 'regional' anaesthetic.

"It's a really good way, I think, of undertaking these kinds of operations," he said. "Some patients are quite disappointed because the operation is finished before the end of the film!"

However, the biggest surprise for Dr Pace has been his patients' taste in DVDs.

"I picked up this one: The Guide to Successful Pole Fishing," he explains. "My wife said - 'Who on Earth is going to want to watch that?' but it's by far the most popular male choice!"

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